You would think the notion of proper sleep benefiting one’s overall health, academic performance, and athletic performance is common sense. You will be surprised to find many young student athletes do not believe in the value of sleep. I have not seen any research on athletes’ attitudes on sleep, but in my daily duties as an athletic trainer it seems like many just do not care about proper sleep. I am always hearing stories from both the athletes and their parents about athletes staying up late only to get a few hours of sleep before going to class the next day. My pre-season talks to athletes in the past few years included discussions on sleep along with proper nutrition, hydration, and concussion awareness.
From our past experiences we all know that the lack of quality sleep has negative effects on both athletic and academic performance. It hinders our ability to make quick and correct decisions, whether it is answering a test’s question or making the correct pass on a basketball fast break. If you stayed up all night “cramming“ for a test you will most likely do poorly. It is the same way for a big game. If the athlete stays up late playing video games, the following day the athlete will most likely play poorly in the game. Also poor sleeping habits can have emotional effects. I know from personal experience that if I do not get enough sleep over a period of days I can get very grouchy and irritable. I have seen this with many other people and athletes.
How much sleep do you need? I do not think there is an answer that fits all. There are studies that say anywhere between seven and ten hours nightly but I believe it is based on the individual. Some perform well with only five hours of sleep and some need ten hours. I believe consistency is the key. First find out what your optimal sleep time is. Then during the school year and sports season get into a habit of going to sleep and waking at the same time. This, with proper nutrition and good conditioning, will only help your athletic performance and daily living.
Lastly, what about naps? More and more college football coaches encourage their players to take naps before late afternoon and evening games. The coaches are seeing better performances from players who nap before games. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a 30 minute nap before games. The Foundation does not recommend naps longer than 30 minutes because that may hinder sleep that night.
There are other negative effects of improper sleep such as hindering energy recovery, slowing injury recovery, and increasing cortisol levels. We must continue to stress proper sleep and hope the student athletes finally buy into it.